AAA Projects Thanksgiving Travel to Increase 1.4 Percent from Last Year

Fewer will travel by air this year due to budget concerns, reduced airline capacity and added charges

ORLANDO, FL – November 18, 2009 – (Motor Sports Newswire) –  AAA projected 38.4 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more away from home over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend; a 1.4 percent increase over last year when 37.8 million traveled.

The number of travelers by automobile is expected to be 33.2 million in 2009 compared to 32.5 million last year; an increase of 2.1 percent. The number of travelers by air is expected be 2.3 million compared to 2.5 million in 2008; a decline of 6.7 percent. The number of those traveling by “other” means, including, trains, watercraft, buses and multiple-modes of transportation, is expected to be 2.9 million compared to 2.8 million last year, an increase of 1.2 percent, AAA said.

Last year, Thanksgiving travel dropped a precipitous 25.2 percent in the wake of the ongoing housing and financial crisis. This year’s expected increase in travel reflects improved consumer confidence from one year ago, better financial market performance and a growing sense among many consumers that the worst of the global economic crisis is behind us, AAA said.

“Although far too many Americans remain unemployed or under other financial stress, AAA’s projected increase in Thanksgiving travel from one year ago is another hopeful sign that economic conditions are stabilizing and improving in some areas. We can also be thankful the gradual recovery we have been seeing in the U.S. travel industry since the start of the summer is continuing,” said AAA’s director of Travel Services, Glen MacDonell.

Number of Thanksgiving travelers going by air continues to decline

Eighty-six percent of Thanksgiving vacationers are expected to travel by automobile, while only six percent say they will go by air. In October, the time when most people make decisions in regards to Thanksgiving travel, average gasoline prices were approximately 54 cents cheaper than they were in October 2008. Despite increases in gasoline prices since October this year, most people will not change their decision to fly verses drive since seat availability becomes more limited and airline ticket prices increase as the holiday approaches.

This year’s decrease in the number of air travelers continues a decade-long trend in which air travel as a percentage of total Thanksgiving travel has declined substantially. Since 2000, the number of Americans traveling by air during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend has dropped an astounding 62 percent. While much of this decrease can be attributed to ongoing economic difficulties, the air travel experience itself has undergone a substantial change since the 1990s with stricter airport security, more frequent flight delays, reduced capacity, added surcharges and fees, all contributing to the decline. Those traveling by “other” means – including trains, watercraft, buses, RVs and multiple modes of travel – are projected to comprise eight percent of holiday travelers.

Average spending will be $718 and average distance traveled will be 815 miles

Thanksgiving travelers expect to spend approximately $718 per household this upcoming holiday weekend. With the main purpose of Thanksgiving holiday being a special meal with family and friends, it is not surprising that only 15.7 percent of spending will be for accommodations, while 32 percent will be for transportation. Food and beverage will absorb 21 percent of spending and shopping will account for 16 percent. Entertainment and recreation will account for 10 percent of spending on average. “Other” or miscellaneous spending is five percent.

Thanksgiving travelers will journey an average of 815 miles roundtrip this upcoming holiday weekend. More than one-third (37 percent) of travelers will travel 250 miles or less round trip. Slightly less than one-quarter (24 percent) of weekend travelers will log between 251 and 700 miles. And 38 percent will travel more than 700 miles round trip.

Airfare, lodging and rental car costs will all be lower

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index – a monitor of pricing in 20 popular cities across the US for hotel and car rentals, as well as 40 pairs of cities for air travel pricing – the lowest average published airfares over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend are expected to decrease four percent from last year to an average of $170 per roundtrip ticket. Car rental rates are down three percent to an average of $44 per day for a mid-size car versus $45 per day last year. Rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to be 11 percent less than last year with travelers spending an average of $128 per night. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond lodgings will pay 13 percent less than last year; an average of $92 per night.

Holiday Forecast Methodology

AAA’s projections are based on research conducted by IHS Global Insight. The Lexington, Mass.-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA earlier this year as part of an agreement to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. For purposes of this forecast the Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as trips that include travel of 50 miles or more away from home during the period from Wednesday, November 25 to Sunday, November 29. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2009 Thanksgiving holiday forecast can be found at

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Global Insight has developed a unique approach to forecasting actual travel that explicitly considers current economic conditions, past holiday travel trends and behavior, and the recent assessment of pre-holiday American travel intentions derived from a survey of 1,350 American households.*

The intentions figures act as a leading indicator, but do not constitute the forecast itself. Instead, travel intentions overlay other key travel drivers along with past trends in an effort to project what Americans will actually do. The approach recognizes Americans do not always behave as they say they will.

The actual travel figures come from the ongoing travel panel database of D.K. Shifflet & Associates, the premier source of American travel volume and behavior. DKSA interviews over 50,000 American households per month in an effort to track trip incidence, composition, behavior, and spending… all after the trips have been taken.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at

* The first two holiday travel forecasts conducted by IHS Global Insight and AAA (Memorial Day and Fourth of July 2009) utilized an initial nationwide sampling of 2,700 households to collect at least 405 respondents planning a holiday trip. These respondents were interviewed in detail about their intended trips. Beginning with the 2009 Labor Day holiday travel forecast, 1,350 households are being included in the initial survey; however, at least 405 respondents will continue to be interviewed in detail about their intended trips.

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